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Credit Where Credit is Due

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
September 13, 1999


I hate billboards, designed to sell us things we don't need, these eye sores are pollution of the aesthetic, and serve no purpose other than continuing the commercial assault on life in Southern California. A main stay in the San Diego county billboard barrage is the, not so clever, marketing of all things zoological. One of these giant ads angered me to such an extent that I am reconsidering my membership in the San Diego Zoological Society.

The offensive billboard of which I speak can currently be seen in Oceanside while driving east on Highway 78. Accompanying the rendering of two zebras with a monorail train in the background, this advertisement for the San Diego Wild Animal Park bears the message "Commute with Nature." I'm sure whoever is responsible for this smug ad campaign gave little thought to the plight of zebras. Nor do they understand that animals at the park are far from their natural state. In fact if visitors of the park want to commute with animals in a natural state they should look elsewhere.

As a member of the Zoological Society, I realize that the society is accomplishing amazing feats of conservation, and that their Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species is the last hope for those species currently facing the finality of extinction. One major success story is that of the California Condor, and it's return to the wild. Regardless of this work, the mere placement of the park at the San Pasqual Valley location actually erased a considerable amount habitat for the endangered California gnatcatcher. To save one species, must we sacrifice others?

My question is where are the breeding programs for the local flora and fauna currently being eradicated in favor of suburban sprawl. How viable are California Condors if their is no food chain to support them? As a scavenger, these birds rely on the carrion of large mammals for food, when indigenous species are no longer available, the only way for these birds to survive will be in places like the Wild Animal Park. Without a shift in human culture, the well meaning efforts of the Zoological Society are nothing more than a holding pattern with snack bars and gift shops.

A mantra of Republicans, Libertarians, and the John Birch Society, is if environmentalists want to save native habitats, and the species dependent on them, then they need to buy them. Which is truer than I would like to admit. Unfortunately, the agents of capitalism have put a price tag on everything, and the only ones capable of buying large tracts of sustainable habitat, are the ones predisposed to exploit it. In fact, through property taxes, the Federal government requires that profit much be squeezed from every square inch of privately held land.

With all that said, I think I have found a solution to the conservation fund-raising problem, and although a bit radical, it is worth mentioning. By charging royalties for the use of an animal's likeness they can pay their own way. If every Chinese restaurant incorporating a panda in it's name, or advertising, contributed a percentage of it's yearly profits, say 1 percent, to the purchase of panda habitat, perhaps the Chinese could be bribed to make room for these incredible animals.

Elvis is dead, and profit from the use of his likeness is making enough bank to keep Graceland in rhinestones. It's absurd that our culture can find money to protect the homes of dead humans, but not the species that share this planet with us. Oh what tangled webs we unweave.

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